Workshop held in South Philadelphia contributes to new legacy mural

In honor of its 100th anniversary, The Philadelphia Foundation partnered with Mural Arts to create a community-collaborative piece of public art.

Artist Ernel Martinez (far right), students and parents gathered at Southeast by Southeast on Thursday to contribute visions to a new legacy mural created in partnership with Mural Arts and the Philadelphia Foundation. (Grace Maiorano/SPR)

Depicting Philadelphia’s past and future, a medley of mosaics, maps and portraits will soon color the cityscape of 23th and Market streets.

Developed from visions cultivated at citywide workshops, the new piece of public art, a product of Mural Arts Philadelphia, will reflect not only the creativity but the lives of populations across seven local counties.

Serving as a source of community strengthening, the approximately 20-foot-by-100-foot-long canvas, which will be unveiled in November, hopes to emulate the cornerstone of its commissioner, The Philadelphia Foundation.

Marking its centennial year of service celebration, the organization, which works to increase “philanthropic investment in the community, fostering the economic, civic and social vitality of Greater Philadelphia,” has partnered with acclaimed artist Ernel Martinez of Mural Arts Philadelphia to create a major legacy mural in honor of The Philadelphia Foundation’s 100th anniversary.

“When given the opportunity to come up with some concepts to present some work, I think, we sort of meshed really well because of the history of The Philadelphia Foundation but also the content and the concept of the mural,” he said. “And a huge part of the mural was to engage as many people as possible and using art as a platform of engagement but to also share the history of The Philadelphia Foundation. And to give people the opportunity to collaborate, because collaboration is a huge part of public art.”

The 100-year-old organization engages in a plethora of philanthropy across seven regional counties, including distributing scholarships to students and grants to nonprofits.  

As the fabric of Philadelphia changes, the foundation is working to most authentically and accurately reflect such transitions in its next century of community outreach – and its mural.

This concept is especially embodied in the mural-creation process itself. 

“What better than in our centennial year than to do something like a mural with the amazing Ernel and leave this legacy for the region? The mural itself,” said Diane Melley, executive director of Second Century Initiatives and Corporate Partnerships at The Philadelphia Foundation. “But the process is critical, and that’s why we’re here today.” 

In an effort to harness the ever-shifting nuances of Philadelphia, 18 art workshops have been planned throughout the summer around the city as well as in Camden, Delaware, Bucks and Montgomery counties, including one hosted at Mural Arts’ Southeast by Southeast, 2106 S. 8th St., last Thursday evening.

At the South Philadelphia space, local children and parents engaged in portrait and photography activities, which will help to compose a portion of the mural. 

“A mural – it’s very important for it not to just be an artist swooping in and putting their own vision into the community,” said Rebecca Miller, a teaching artist with Mural Arts Philadelphia. “We think a lot about the people who will be living with that art and seeing it every day.”

Last week’s workshop focused specifically on the idea of social currency, sparking questions for participants, such as what do we all have in common? It strived to get people thinking about what they share with their neighbors, what they can bring and what they get back from those around them.

For the foundation, it probed thoughts such as, what are new methods of raising philanthropy in the community, and ultimately, how can it make a better community by listening to the voices of the people?

“When you think about grantmaking of the last century, it maybe wasn’t that inclusive of the people that it serves,” Melley said. “And so, what we thought was very important as we go throughout this year is that we give opportunities for community members to meet The Philadelphia Foundation, understand the work that we do, the opportunities that it provides.”

From Camden, New Jersey to Folsom, Delaware County, a breadth of demographics will contribute their imaginations and experiences to the project. 

The free art workshops, which runs through Sept. 9, will be scattered at various places around the region, including the Asian Arts Initiative in Chinatown, the Montgomery County Senior Center in Ambler and Middletown Municipal Center in Langhorne, Bucks County. 

Project leaders say it was crucial to designate a location specifically in South Philadelphia. 

“What we looked at was the full complexion of – are we hearing all of the voices from all of the people that we serve?” Melley asked. “So, when we looked at South Philly and the demographics here and the changing complexion of this area, we wanted to make sure we got South Philly, and particularly Southeast Philly, included in it…this was one of the locations we thought was multicultural and multigenerational.”

The mural is part of a yearlong celebration marking the centennial, including The Philadelphia Foundation’s first public grantmaking initiative called the “Key to Community Grants.”

Through a voting process, residents of the Greater Philadelphia region will decide which action-oriented programs will receive portions of a $1 million fund. From July 8 to 26, the process will be held online, as individuals can vote in three categories, including economic prosperity, the opportunity divide and civic and community engagement.

This project aims to capture the spirit of communities across the region – much like the mural.

“I think what really makes this stand apart is – the broad and thoughtfulness in terms of outreach,” Martinez said. “I think the fact that there’s so many different populations that are being touched through this project…it feels like a living project. The vision is changing with the involvement of other people, and I think that keeps it interesting.”

To vote in grantmaking, visit: 

Twitter: @gracemaiorano